The elevator had just given a hearty shudder when the young man next to me said "I've seen this thing nearly kill two people," and, miming shoulder-butting and pulling apart the elevator doors, he continued "they were like 'Aaargh!" "Eeuw," said one of the objects of his attention and, applying an emoticon horror face, she said "this elevator is, like, sooo scary!" By the time the doors opened everyone involved seemed satisfied with the interaction and went their separate ways to classrooms where, one assumes, communication between student and professor is a little more fluent than what I'd just heard.
Its interesting watching how this generation makes itself understood to its peers, for those members of it with whom I interact in the classroom don't talk to me this way. Oh, on occasion I get "’sup, professor?" which I take at face value and frequently reply "’sup, student?"- which usually brings a smile, if a wry one. In the hallways and in the elevator I sometimes have the idea that these young people have begun to act like silent-movie stars - mugging for the camera with words replaced by gestures and poses. It seems to me the more inarticulate they are the more expressive their body language - though, perhaps, now I think about it, not so much resembling silent-movie stars, more modern-day TV actors.
I wondered once if it were fashionable to be inarticulate and whilst I think that is might be so, peer pressure, or rather pack behavior plays a role. This combination of gesture, facial expression and pose is a linguistic short form to which I've become accustomed and which I observe every day. I remember one teenager I overheard in an airport recently who was irritatingly unable to put two words together without an intrusive "like" or a gesture or a pose to fill in the missing words. I, like, was, like ... really, like... I mean... Her three uniformly clad and coifed companions were equally incomprehensible but it did not seem to matter for they all were having a great time. While I, like, in my, like, ungenerous way, wanted to .... well, I won't, like, go there.
"Is that a Brooks Brothers’ blazer?" asked a student last night before class began and on hearing it was, said he "that's, like, fratty as fuck!" Not so much thrown as intrigued, I asked "what as what?" and his female companion, perhaps in an effort to defuse what she thought might become a difficult moment, informed me in very friendly way that FAF was a compliment. Grateful as I was, and remain, for learning something new and for being made to laugh out loud, I thanked them both.
Despite the criticism it gets for its inability to put down a cellphone; its seemingly universal desire to filter life through earphones; its casual relations with deadlines; its supposed narcissism and public inarticulacy, I must say I have found my experience with Generation Me to be unalloyed pleasure. What I for my part find hard to articulate is how much I will miss my interaction with those bouncing-off-the-wall-with-enthusiasm, bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed, uniformly entertaining and, in my experience, hard-working students when I stop teaching at the end of next week.
An interior design history enthusiast and in my own way an erstwhile chronicler of those I call the Lost Generation - those men, some of them gay and many of whom died of AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s, and who are to a great degree forgotten.